Sammartini Articulation Print E-mail
Written by Tom Moore   

Styles of articulation in Italian woodwind sonatas of the early eighteenth century: Evidence from contemporary prints and manuscripts, with particular reference to the Sibley Sammartini Manuscript


This series of articles will consider issues having to do with articulation and style in the wind music of the first half of the eighteenth century, from the period which we commonly think of as 'late Baroque', though as will be seen later, such an encompassing label is probably too broad to be useful. It has its origin in my work as a performer of this repertoire, and my work coaching the early music ensemble of the University of Rio de Janeiro, trying to give direction and answer questions about why's and why not's having to do with details of performance, and also from a frustration with approaches to interpretation which rely on the naive (rather than educated) taste of the musician who approaches a score with a 'one size fits all' approach. We know that scores have shown increasing attention to details of dynamics and articulation over the last three centuries. Does this mean that performances three hundred years ago were uninflected, or underinflected? No. Quite the opposite. Performances were probably more highly inflected than we are used to in the twenty-first century. It simply means that scores were treated more in the manner of a play script, giving the text, but without instructing the performers on how exactly each phrase was to be uttered, leaving that to the art and good taste of the individual. However, it is clear that this good taste fell within clearly defined norms. Just as in our social interactions, a range of possibilities are allowed, as long as an individual does not overstep the bounds.

Modern musicians often come to the score imagining that all the information needed to realize an idiomatic performance is there on the page in front of them (something not even the case for scores of modern works). The philological impulses of late nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars, who sought to replace published scores incorporating performance directions by noted performers with 'clean' scores containing only that which had gone from the composer’s pen onto the page have meant that often the modern musician approaches the urtext with the notion that nothing can be added, that to change a jot or tittle, even in terms of articulation, is violating the composer’s intent. The fact that there is often so little detail offered by an original printed edition of the early eighteenth century only goes to reinforce this view.

In considering this important and neglected area I will focus here on a valuable source of sonatas for winds by Giuseppe Sammartini held at the Sibley Music Library, University of Rochester, in Rochester, New York (M241.S189, accessible as pdf on the web at http://hdl.handle.net/1802/1523). This is an extensive collection of sonatas for solo treble instrument with basso continuo, copied by several hands, and incorporating sections with sonatas for oboe and continuo (pp. 1-59), transverse flute and continuo (pp. 69-99), and recorder and continuo (pp. 109-220, and also 61-67, though without designation of the solo instrument). The manuscript concludes with a sonata for violin and continuo.

Sammartini was born (1695) and raised in Milan, the son of a French oboist, Alexis Saint-Martin). He emigrated to London in 1729, and remained there for the rest of his life, performing in the orchestra for numerous Handel operas. His music is neither particularly modern (that is, it moves relatively towards the highly-ornamented galant), nor retrospective, perhaps reflecting an educated (but not cutting-edge) English taste. Sammartini’s approach to articulation might thus seem to have a claim to a wider application, in reflecting the choices of an Italian musician working in an internationalized style in a European metropolis.

The works contained in the Sibley manuscript contain articulation markings which are more extensive and more detailed than is often the case for sources from the first half of the eighteenth century. Before approaching this source, we can take a look at a number of contemporary sources by other composers, and see what the norms may have been for Sammartini’s predecessors and contemporaries writing in the Italian style. Then we can look to see if some consistent practices in articulation can be ascertained within the Sibley manuscript. Having done so, we can then see how these reflect the articulations given in published sonatas by Sammartini (some of which have concordances in the manuscript).

Similarity of practice between various woodwind instruments (recorder, transverse flute, oboe, bassoon)

Increasing technical demands for woodwind instruments over the course of the last three hundred years have meant that it is rare today to find professional musicians who play more than one woodwind at a high level. Such was not the case during the eighteenth century, and in fact the opposite was true - the professional wind player most likely played oboe (as a primary instrument), but would also have a master of transverse flute, recorder and possibly bassoon as well. Evidence for this is ample, most tellingly from the many orchestral works which call for a pair of winds in addition to the strings, with oboes in the allegros and flutes in the slower lyrical movements. (A more extreme example of this is the Telemann Water Music, where the two wind players double on oboe, transverse flute, recorders, and piccolo.) Quantz, the most eminent flute teacher of the age, began his career as an oboist, and François Devienne, the leading pedagogue at the end of the century, was principal bassoonist at the Opera in Paris, as well as professor of flute at the Conservatory. Hotteterre’s didactic works (the Principes, 1707, and the Art de préluder, 1719) both concern themselves with the recorder and oboe as well as the flute. Quantz makes it clear that what he has to say on flute performance is directly applicable to the oboe and bassoon as well. Obviously the fingering for individual notes, and the means of producing the tone will be different, but otherwise “the oboe and bassoon have much in common with the transverse flute”1 . We will thus be justified in viewing the articulations from works for these various instruments globally.

Articulation information in earlier and contemporary sources:

Corelli (Walsh edition for recorder)

The violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli, who published a small number of collections - trio sonatas, one set of twelve sonatas for violin and continuo, and one set of concerti - was nonetheless the most widely influential figure in Italian instrumental music in the first half of the eighteenth century, with his violin sonatas continually republished, and adapted or arranged for other instruments as well. The transcriptions, published in London by Walsh, of the first six sonatas from Corelli’s opus 5 for recorder and continuo (described as “fluto primo” and “fluto basso” in the two part-books) are relatively well-supplied with articulation slurs, which, however, fall into several clearly-delimited categories. The most obvious of these is the slurring of the first two eighth notes of three successive eighths in the gigas of sonatas I-IV. This takes place so consistently that any omission of such a slur must be an error on the part of the engraver. The slurs are present whether the melodic motion is stepwise, or over wide leaps, whether upwards or downwards. In these gigues there are no slurs linking the second and third eights of three, nor connecting all three eighths of a group of three (the one such, in the gigue of Sonata II, must be an error). The only other consistent articulation slurs are those connecting a group of a quarter followed by an eight, at the close of the gigue in Sonata I.

The remaining quick movements are sparsely marked. An exception here is the allegro of Sonata V, where measures 5-8 have arpeggiated 16ths slurred two by two. The rest of the sixteenth-note passagework, however, has no articulation marked. The slower movements generally have stepwise sixteenths slurred two by two. A noteworthy aspect of this source is that there is not a single ornament marked, not even a trill. The slurred appoggiaturas in the opening Preludio of Sonata I are marked where we could expect that the player would add a trill on the appoggiatura as well.

Part 2 follows next month - Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant


1.Quantz (Riley), p. 85 (Chapter 6, Section III, Supplement)

Tom MooreTom Moore is a journalist, musician, and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. He has recorded Telemann for Lyrichord (USA) and Boismortier for A Casa Discos (Brazil). He writes about music for BrazilMax, Musica Brasileira, 21st Century Music, Opera Today, Flute Talk, Sonograma, Early Music America, and other venues.